Ice is just around the corner, and even if you haven’t taken your deer or aren’t ready for hardwater, it’ll soon be upon us. That means a complete reset as an angler, from long rods to short, big baits to smaller ones, and a host of other changes to your approach. It’s probably not a bad idea to check out some early ice spots via the boat while you can, as it’s always easier to cover water side-scanning than drilling-down. It’s also not a bad time to take inventory on what you’ve got so you can start building out lists on what to get. It can be challenging to find the colors, shapes, and sizes of everything you may want to fish with, so it helps to get a handle on those needs sooner than later.
This time of year, it’s never bad to do some dreaming either. Think about where you’d like to go, or maybe from the other way around, what you’d like to fish for – then seek out a prime destination to take on that species. The best anglers in the world fish the best lakes, during peak times of the day, at a time in the season where they have a competitive advantage. It’s a way to stack the deck in your favor, and planning for those trips starts early. Even if you’re an angler who is flexible enough to leave on a whim, it helps to have a few bucket-list destinations or dream trips lined up.
If you’re a panfish angler, you’re probably anxious to get out on some early ice whenever it hits your area. For good reason too, it’s a great time of the year to find shallow gills and the slightly deeper crappies before they fully retreat to wintering holes. That means that while fish might be plentiful and even active come early ice, they may not be as easy to find as they will be in the deeper water with your electronics. For that reason, it makes sense to fish quick and light, targeting a variety of weedy flats and edges where you last left them. Tungsten is a key weapon in that part of your arsenal, and you should have a few rods strung up with some of the new offerings below:
- Tungsten Mud Bug – The Northland Tungsten Mud Bug is a new staple in the tungsten category, featuring a 45-degree downturned hook, solid tungsten jig with upturned eye, and some great colors. Like all tungsten offerings, it exels in fishing fast, and it’s heavier-than-lead attributes allow you to fish smaller sizes quickly without over-clubbing fish and waiting for your lure to drop both.
- Tungsten Gill-Getter – The Northland Tungsten Gill Getter Jig sports a more horizontal, flatter design that sits well in the water and tantalizes big bull gills. Like the Mud Bug, it fishes fast, but also features a wider footprint that makes it more discernable on electronics without being overly large or obtrusive for interested panfish species.
There’s plenty to be excited about for early ice walleye anglers too, as first ice is prime time for good shallow bites. Often, that means you need to stake out some shoreline structure, drill your holes early, and wait out the fish instead of hole-hopping. Too much movement, drilling, and ice popping can dissuade hungry walleyes from crashing shallow weedlines or structure to feed in the evening, so it’s best to employ a mix of setline and jigging strategies. Here’s a few new items from Northland to make that experience all the better:
- Mini Predator Rig – This interesting little rig sports twin trebles to secure shiners or suckers both head and tail as they sit below set-line strategies like tip-ups or deadsticks. Offered in both weighted and unweighted versions, it’s nice to be able to walk carefully up to your setline, and set the hook immediately. This drives good hooks home early without damaging the fish too much should you wish to release them, and also keeps them buttoned-up better than traditional setline rigs.
- Buck-Shot Coffin Spoon – This bait takes one of the most winning ice designs of all-time and adds a new wrinkle, with a cut-slab beveled edge that makes the bait tumble on the drop. Like the successful Macho Minnow lineup, it also adds a jointed kicker tail for some added color and attraction where it matters most, at the hook-end during the moment of truth. Not to mention, like the original Buck-Shot, its noisy brass rattle calls in fish from a distance to make it one of the best walleye/perch new releases yet. In smaller sizes, it’s also dynamite for trophy crappies, making it the kind of spoon that’s a multi-species angler’s dream.
- Bro Bug Spoon – Long, slender, and fast-falling, the toothpick shaped design of the Northland Bro Bug spoon fishes fast and mimics real larvae that make up the majority of perch and many walleye diets. More importantly, the bait sports some really life-like eyes that are both “buggy” and realistic at the same time. With the bait being more long and lean, there’s a swinging and swaying motion to the spoon that’s a feature of most jigging motions, making it easy to fish and catch fish with both. Just like the Buck-Shot Coffin Spoon, the Bro Bug offering comes in smaller sizes that work great for deepwater crappies that require a fast drop and lifelike action to entice.